Danielle Foley, Senior Communication Consultant
The relationship between a manager and an employee looks a lot different these days. Before the pandemic, the idea of asking employees what was happening in their lives outside of work wasn’t considered appropriate for the workplace, and it might even have been frowned upon by Human Resources.
Times have definitely changed. It took a global pandemic to upend the notion that work and home lives should be siloed. We now acknowledge that it’s impossible—and, frankly, not good for our mental health—to try to separate the worker from the human being doing the work.
And so managers are being encouraged to check in with employees, be more understanding of life circumstances that could affect work performance, and offer support in a variety of ways.
But not all managers intuitively know how to support their employees beyond the workplace. They need more training in three critical skills:
- Showing empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. A recent Forbes article calls empathy the leadership competency to develop and demonstrate now and in the future of work.
Help managers show more empathy by encouraging them to:
- Hold regular check-ins to find out how people are doing. Some experts recommend asking employees to rate their well-being at these check-ins from 1 to 10 as a way to avoid the “I’m fine” response.
- Create a psychologically safe work environment—one where people feel they can be themselves and won’t be embarrassed, rejected, or humiliated for speaking up.
- Listen, without distraction, to what employees need for work and life.
- Acknowledge that employees’ lived experience may vary widely from person to person – depending on gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc.
- Share relatable personal experiences with their own mental health or coping with stress.
- Make sure meetings begin with some non-work talk to help foster connection.
- Regularly ask for feedback.
- Practice giving the benefit of the doubt.
- Show gratitude for employees. Celebrate their accomplishments and recognize a job well done.
- Having conversations about mental health
According to the American Psychological Association’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey, 3 in 5 employees reported classic symptoms of burnout, including lack of interest, motivation or energy, and lack of effort at work. So, while managers are not trained counselors, it’s clear that talking about mental health at work is now imperative.
Employers can make it easier for managers to have these emotional conversations by providing tip sheets, training, toolkits, or job aids that:
- Educate managers about what mental health is and how to spot signs that an employee may be struggling
- Share tips for what to say and what not to say when speaking with employees
- Bring awareness to the casual use of stigmatizing words and phrases like crazy, lobotomy, bipolar, out of their mind, OCD, psycho, PTSD, schitzo, mental, etc.
- List the resources the company provides to help employees, like counseling through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), stress management classes, resilience tools, and mindfulness/meditation apps
- Let managers know what kinds of accommodations are within their power, such as allowing alternate work schedules, and where they might need to involve HR (e.g., leave of absence)
- Being a good resource for employees
When asked “What’s the first place you go to for information on your benefits?” employees often answer, “My manager.” This means managers must have a good understanding of the benefits and resources offered by the company. And, if managers can’t answer a question, they need to know where to point the employee to get more information.
Here are some ways to make sure managers have all the information they need at their fingertips:
- Create a mental health resource guide, listing websites and phone numbers for all the mental health services provided by the company – EAPs, behavioral health benefits through the medical plan, virtual mental health care benefits, and text/chat counseling apps.
- Educate managers on all the types of leave that are available, including parental or caregiving leave, paid time off, short- and long-term disability, volunteer time off, mental health days, and bereavement leave.
- During annual enrollment, create a managers’ toolkit or hold a manager webinar that highlights major benefits changes for the upcoming year, whether there will be an increase in employee contributions, and when and how to enroll.
- Hold a live demonstration for managers that shows where to find more information about benefits and resources on the company intranet or vendor websites.
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Given the increased demands of supporting employees while also managing their own workload, burnout among managers is a real risk. So as work and family demands start to ramp up this fall, it’s a good idea to take stock of the support you’re providing to your managers. The O’Keefe Group can help. Contact us for more information.